MONTREAL — For Edmonton’s Shamit Shome, playing against former coach Tommy Wheeldon will feel like a trip down memory lane.
The Montreal Impact midfielder largely credits his success in professional soccer to Wheeldon, the current head coach of Calgary’s Cavalry FC — the Canadian Premier League spring champions.
Five years after their first meeting, Shome and Wheeldon go head to head as the Impact host Cavalry in the opening leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal on Wednesday.
“He was the guy who gave me my first opportunity at the provincial level,” Shome said. “From there is where my career really started. Tommy is a guy I have a lot of respect for. I know what he brings to the table and I know he’s a really good coach.
“Cavalry is a very organized side and that all comes from Tommy.”
Shome grew up playing soccer across Alberta as he tried climbing the youth ranks. He remembers countless trips down Hwy. 2 from Edmonton to Calgary to compete in tournaments.
At 16, Shome got a call from Wheeldon to join Alberta’s provincial youth program — the call that put him on the map. He joined FC Edmonton’s academy shortly afterward, where he quickly began playing for the first team. He signed with the Impact the following season.
“I don’t think I would have ever gotten noticed by FC Edmonton if I didn’t make the provincial team,” said Shome, 21. “And the reason I made the provincial team is because of Tommy.”
Wheeldon won’t be the only familiar face on the visiting squad.
Canadian international Samuel Piette has played with a handful of Cavalry players like Sergio Camargo, Elijah Adekugbe, and Marco Carducci on the national team.
The friendly reunions may have to wait until after the final whistle on Wednesday, though, as both teams try to gain the upper hand in the first match of the two-legged aggregate series.
Piette is back from injury and eligible to play. The midfielder, who was sidelined for three weeks with an intercostal tear, told coach Remi Garde he was itching to get some minutes against Cavalry — either as a starter or off the bench.
“We want to make it to the final,” said Piette, who missed four matches in all competitions. “I haven’t played in a final since joining the Impact. We want to have that chance. We need to go out there with confidence and show them we’re MLS players, that we deserve our MLS contracts, that there’s a reason we play for the Impact.”
Garde and the Impact will likely start a few of their regular substitutes. Goalkeeper Clement Diop and striker Anthony Jackson-Hamel are expected to play while Ignacio Piatti should start on the bench.
The second leg will be played Aug. 14 at the 6,000-seat Spruce Meadows in Calgary. The winner of the semifinal meets either the Ottawa Fury or Toronto FC in the final next month.
The Impact punched their ticket by narrowly defeating CPL club York9 FC 3-2 on aggregate in the quarter-final thanks to two penalty goals — one in each leg.
Cavalry’s road to the semifinal was a bigger story. Wheeldon’s outfit became the first CPL team to defeat an MLS squad when Cavalry eliminated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 on aggregate.
After a 0-0 draw in the first leg, the lower-ranked team stunned Vancouver with two goals on the road at B.C. Place, including a 72nd-minute winner by defender Dominick Zator.
“I saw Vancouver for 60 minutes trying to break them down but they couldn’t,” said Shome of Wednesday’s opponents. “They fight for each other, they work hard for each other. They’re a bunch of big guys who have quality and grit.
“They’re dangerous on the counter. They’re dangerous on set pieces. When they get a goal or two goals, they have a block where you can’t break them down.”
CAVALRY FC AT MONTREAL IMPACT
Canadian Championship semifinal (Game 1)
Wednesday, Saputo Stadium
HOT AND COLD: The Impact have struggled with consistency all year long. They followed a 4-0 victory over first-place Philadelphia Union in MLS two weeks ago with a 6-3 loss against last-place Colorado last weekend.
CPL DOMINANCE: Cavalry FC has been the best team since the start of the inaugural Canadian Premier League season. They boast a 11-2-1 record after 14 matches.
WELL RESTED: Cavalry is coming into Montreal’s Saputo Stadium after 10 days of rest. Their last match was June 27 — a 1-1 draw against Winnipeg’s Valour FC in the CPL.
VOYAGEURS CUP: The winner of the Canadian Championship’s two-legged final will hoist the Voyageurs Cup and represent Canada in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.
IMPACT BOUND?: Former Spain international Bojan Krkic has been linked to the Montreal Impact. Krkic parted ways with Stoke City on Tuesday morning after five years at the club.